Talking to Teens When Tragedies Happen. Oh, and Cell Phones…

It’s been a week of heavy lifting in the realm of parenting teens. Most days, the biggest concerns in our lives seem to be getting everybody out of bed and off to school on time, making sure their sports uniforms are clean or at least baptized in Febreze and stopping those perpetually hungry teen boys from gobbling up fistfuls of granola bars right before dinner.

But this week. This has been one of those weeks when sh*t gets real. When I have to find a way to have hard conversations and break my kids’ hearts with reminders about evil that lurks. They act unaffected by news stories, like they’ve got everything under control. Teenagers. Growing and grown­­–on the outside. Still vulnerable and unsteady on the inside like fawns on wobbly legs. It’s my job to help strengthen them. I must do the heavy lifting and point them toward the source of true strength. Encourage them to guard their hearts. And insist on the importance of thinking clearly about our values–that they might live in such a way, loving one another, that others will know to whom they belong.


With teen boys who will one day go off to college and live with a freedom they’ve never known, this story cannot be ignored. My sons must hear me say out loud and with conviction that women should be highly valued even when the culture says they’re not. Even when the culture says women must be thin and pretty and sexy, and that they’re less than… we will reject this premise and we will value women. This is part of our ongoing conversation about relationships, sex and what being a “real” man looks like. They may not want to hear me rant about misogyny or inequality because hearing parents talk about sex can cause a gag reflex in most teens. Too bad. It’s got to be.

A friend told me how he asks his son’s friends, who think because they’re physically strong that they are truly strong, “Are you strong enough to go against the crowd? Are you strong enough to stand up for the weak?” *click here for a more poignant conversation by Ann Voskamp on the topic.

Writer Anne Greenwood Brown spoke about the courage and conviction of the Swedish cyclists who stopped the Stanford rapist and held him until the police arrived.

Not only were those cyclists brave, they were shocked and horrified. A news account mentions how one of the Swedes cried multiple times while giving testimony to police. I want my sons to be horrified if ever they witness evil being done to another human. I hope and pray they too would defend the weak and vulnerable like those cyclists did.

Brown took it a step further by making t-shirts that say “Be a Swedish Bicyclist.” I think that’s pretty terrific!

courtesy Anne Greenwood Brown

courtesy of Ann Greenwood Brown

When I told my boys about the t-shirts and the tagline, I asked them, “Would you be a Swedish bicyclist?” They nod in affirmation. I hope that’s true.


I remember Columbine. The horror of that day, watching the television news in disbelief and with profound sadness. And yet, somehow I knew. I knew it would happen again and keep happening. Because once an event like that gets the desired result–to terrorize and in a twisted way, be memorialized–more lunatics would begin to plot their own personal day of infamy.

In fact, I wish the news would stop proclaiming that the Orlando shooting is the “worst mass shooting in American history” because surely someone out there is evil enough or crazy enough or both to accept that as a challenge.

My heart breaks. Safety is an illusion. I’m sad to have to tell my children this awful truth.

But I’m reminded of a chapter in Nadia Bolz-Weber’s book Accidental Saints. The chapter is called, the Slaughter of the Holy Innocents of Sandy Hook Elementary and in it, Weber attempts to reassure her Lutheran congregation after a horrific school shooting of Christ’s redemption and His solidarity with suffering. She talks about how King Herod ordered the murder of children in an attempt to kill the Christ child.

Evil is not new. It didn’t begin with Columbine. And sadly, it will not end in Orlando. Evil has been with us since shortly after the beginning of our human story.

BUT! In this story, Christ enters into this broken and broken-hearted world, knowing full well how much the place needs fixing. He’s fixing us, if we’ll let him, one by one, heart by heart. Teaching us to trust, to pray, to be kind to each other, to forgive and to live at peace. I tell my sons that it’s part of our job as Christians to bring peace, joy and comfort to the world while we wait for restoration. To bless the suffering and broken-hearted until evil is forever vanquished. We must shine a light in the darkness. Be good. Do good. Point to the source of goodness with how you live your life.

Cell Phones~

Speaking of lights in the darkness. Let me finish with comments about those glowing blue screens. I should have done this before, when we first bestowed those tiny Pandora’s boxes into the palms of our children’s hands. I should have insisted they be phone free overnight.

So now, after those smartphones have become like permanent appendages that seem to cause our boys to take the longest dumps in recorded bathroom history, I’m prepared to pry those devices from their clenched fists like priceless pearls from an oyster. Let ‘em scream, “It hurts. I’ll surely die.”

They will not die. And they need not respond to text messages, Snapchats, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or any other damned digital demon in the wee hours of the night.

No plotting. No drama. No endless conversations about the latest Jordans. It stops. Maybe it never started. But with our youngest about to begin high school and informing us that he now has a girlfriend, late night access to a cell phone is bound to become a source of temptation if not serious frustration.

So, for the summer, I’ve asked our boys to turn in their phones at 10 p.m. They are not pleased. But I feel strongly that I’ve erred by letting this go on up to now, believing they were sleeping whenever I was sleeping. #afoolnomore

That’s it. It’s all I’ve got. This is the best parenting I can do this week. I’m tapped out. Tired. So turn off the news. Turn off the cell phone. Say your prayers and get some sleep. Those kids will likely need us again tomorrow.


Help Reveal the Hope that Exists



Photo by Sarah Dibbern

Photo by Sarah Dibbern

Snark, cynicism and irony are the revered attitudes of contemporary life. Notions of high-minded humor rest on pillars of sarcasm. Salacious television programming suggests viewers be suspicious of all human interaction. And news stories often stir the pots of divisiveness, perceived helplessness and fear. Our natural reaction is to gird up. Armored with a thick skin and a vicious wit, we believe we can thrive, or can at least survive, in this age of raised eyebrows and hardened hearts.

But carrying around a combined weight of skepticism and scorn can be a heavy load. When we distrust every institution, profession or person, we become isolated. Some vent anonymously online. Some medicate. Others meditate. But living in fear of some sinister truth that lurks around every corner waiting to pounce on our latent “naiveté” isn’t the only way to live. It’s really no way to live.

An attitude of cynicism says disappointment is the only possible outcome and that we must prepare accordingly. But what if there is an alternate truth? A revelation that can free us from being overwhelmed by fear. A truth that conquers cynicism and its accompanying band of Debbie Downers: anxiety, depression and anger.

That truth is, hope exists. And if we cannot go so far as to believe anything is good–can’t we at least offer a taste of the hope that exists by doing good?

Some ideas for transforming attitudes from helplessness to hopefulness:

Photo by Sarah Dibbern

Photo by Sarah Dibbern

  • Search for at least one good attribute in each person who rubs you the wrong way because hope exists in restored relationships.
  • Practice empathy because hope exists when we seek to understand others.
  • Be a good listener because hope exists when we help lighten another’s burden.
  • Be vulnerable because hope exists when others see they are not alone.
  • Be cheerful because it’s hard to have hope when you’re always bitchy.
  • Pray for others because hope exists when we ask the Almighty to protect and comfort His creation.
  • Filter your media input because hope flourishes when you’re not inundated with negativity. (This isn’t PollyAnna. It’s wisdom.)
  • Spend time in nature because hope exists when you marvel at the universe.
  • Don’t mock or undermine others because hope exists when we eschew tribalism and seek to build on common ground.

Please feel free to add to this list in the comments section with your own ideas for offering hope to a cynical world. And may your Monday be blessed as you bask in this truth–Hope exists.

Photo by Sarah Dibbern

Photo by Sarah Dibbern